Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Moose Mountain Marathon

Warning, this is a long post. Feel free to skip to the end, or just check out the pictures.

Last Saturday (9/6/2014) was the Moose Mountain Marathon, ending in Lutsen, Minnesota on the north shore of Lake Superior.  The marathon was a part of the Superior Fall Races, which included a 50 mile run and a 100 mile run.  Here I am waiting for the start on a dirt road with Laney.

Each of the three races was a point-to-point course on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).  This trail is a very nicely maintained route that goes from Duluth to the Canadian border.  The 100 miler started at Gooseberry Falls on Friday at 8am.  The 50 miler started at Finland at 5:30am on Saturday morning.  We (the marathoners) started on Cramer Road in Schroeder at 8am.  The morning was bright and clear, sunny and breezy in the low 50's.  I was cool waiting for the start, but very comfortable once we got moving.

My support and cheer crew waiting for the start.  The start, as are most trail races, was fairly informal.  A couple words of announcement, and we were off right at 8am.

I lined up a ways towards the back.  There were 221 of us to start the race.  I did not want to get caught up starting out too fast.  I probably started out too slow, but I can live with that.  I was a little concerned about how little water I was carrying as I checked the other runners out.  I had two little bottles in my belt, but most people had double the volume of liquid that I had.

We ran along a dirt road for a quarter mile or so to try and even out.  It didn't help much, as we were still bunched up.  There was a bit of waiting early on in the race.

My view right after the start.  Most of the runners were from Minnesota, and everyone was friendly.

We were pretty slow at first, queuing up everytime there was a tree to cross, hill to climb, or mudpit to negotiate.  Also, we were mixed in with some of the 100 milers from the start.  Those amazing athletes had been running for more than 24 hours at that point.  Most still looked surprisingly good.

The tagline for the race was "rugged, relentless, remote".  The remote part meant that there were only three aid stations.  The first aid station at Temperance River Road was over seven miles away.  Eventually, as we passed folk, the 'conga line' I was in started to move faster and make it into a comfortable pace.

The first stretch was pretty, with rolling hills, and some scenic overlooks.  The course directors had warned us repeatedly about hornets, and strongly discouraged anyone who was allergic not to participate.  I never saw or felt any bees, but many of the people I talked to had been stung.

Here we are making a descent towards the Cross River valley.  I followed my pack, and only passed when they did.  Our overall pace was slow, due to the congestion, but I was fine with that.

Some of the locals told me that Boney's Meadow was a good place to see moose.  I had seen much moose pellets during the week, but no sign of the moose themselves.

Running along the Cross River.  We followed the river for a while, before crossing it on a bridge and heading towards Temperance River.  The trail was rugged, but all of the creeks had good bridges, and many areas had plank boardwalks.

The week before had been uncharacteristically rainy for the area.  Mudholes were pretty constant throughout the course.  Wet feet have never bothered me, and I did not expend any extra effort avoiding the mud.

Laney awaiting my crossing of the bridge over Temperance River.  We camped in the Temperance River State Park, a short distance from this point.  This was the lowest elevation of the marathon, and headed uphill from here.

Marathon spectators were not allowed at the Temperance River Road aid station, to ease road congestion.  The first aid station was the best in my opinion, although I needed aid at the last much more desperately.  The first aid station was cooking pancakes and sausage.  I ate two of each, and they tasted wonderful.  I hadn't finished my two water bottles, but I refilled and headed a short distance down the trail to meet Joy at the bridge.

We ran along one bank of the Temperance River, crossed, and ran back up the other bank.  The Temperance River is very beautiful, and has cut a deep gorge with many waterfalls.  We'll post pictures of that later.

After leaving Temperance River, we climbed to Carlton Peak.  I was psyched up for this climb, and it wasn't that bad.  After coming down, there were extensive, "wooden roller-coasters", as some called the plank boardwalks.  They would bounce up and down as we ran down them.  The second aid station was after Carlton Peak, a little over five miles from the first.  I ate and drank what I could, which wasn't as much as I should have.  I refilled my bottles and headed out.

The third stretch, between aid stations 2 and 3 was the muddiest.  I fell in with a couple girls and ran with them.  I was starting to feel the miles, and it was nice to have someone to talk to and pace me.  In hindsight, I think I hadn't been keeping up with the calories.  My legs felt decent still, but I was just getting tired.

I was happy to see the last aid station.  I had finished off my bottles shortly before the aid station, and needed liquids.  Joy and Laney were there to greet me.  I took some time to drink and snack.

The volunteers were very helpful, and knew how to take care of distance runners.  They would fill your bottles for you.  (Which is probably easier than having a runner with diminished fine motor skills try to help you.)

Here is my portrait with a little over seven miles to go.  I ate what I could, but I was behind in the energy game.  I knew it would be a long path to the finish.  I got an extra water bottle from Joy, and headed out.

One of the charms of the course is that there are three significant climbs in the last seven miles.  The last two are the biggest climbs of the whole marathon.  The climb up Moose Mountain was pretty straight up, with a couple logs blocking the path in places.  The view out over Lake Superior once you got on top was nice.

I looked forward to every down hill.  Maybe the only thing I do well in trail running is descending rocky, treacherous slopes.  The last stretch was the first where I was alone for significant times.  I would pass a couple runners on the down slopes, and see them again as they passed me on the ascents.  After coming down Moose Mountain, I passed a sign that said Ski Hill road (where the finish line was located) was only 3.5 miles away (making the finish about 4.0 miles away.)  This encouraged me.  As I was making my way up Mystery Mountain (the tallest on the course), a 100 miler ran up to me (the green shirt man in the photo above.)  I made some small talk, telling him about the sign.  He was surprised.  "Less than four miles to go?  That's great!"  Then he took off at a run.  I just about cried, realizing that he had been running/walking non-stop for over 30 hours at that point.

One of the few spectators (not at an aid station) took my picture as I posed on the Poplar River bridge.  Less than a mile to go!

Here I am at the finish.  I was still able to run.  I do not think I would have made the last stretch without Joy's extra water bottle.  I emptied the last of the three just before the finish.

Resting at the finish.  I was/am a little embarrassed by the time, but I was happy to beat seven hours.  The cutoff time was 14.  The winner finished in 3:32, which is very impressive.  (Results are here)  The second place was more than 15 minutes later.  Only 20 people (out of 216) finished in under five hours, which gives an indication of the course difficulty level.

Laney was happy to see me, and didn't seem to mind how dirty I was.  It felt good to lie there in the sun.  Eventually, I got the chills and made my way to the fire pit.  There, I ran into some of the most kind and hospitable people I have met.  I must have inspired pity with my hypothermia, as they wrapped me in a jacket and got me some chili.  It was good to sit there, warm up, and talk with the other runners, trading trail stories.

I really enjoyed being a part of the Superior Fall races. The course (and the whole north shore) was gorgeous. The race was well run and organized. The runners were very friendly. The displays of athleticism were awe-inspiring. The physical and mental strength of the 100 milers was mind-boggling. The winner of the 100 miler finished in under 22 hours, in the dark, before we started the marathon. Many of the 100 milers were still running with us, and many still looked strong. The 50 milers started 2.5 hours before us, and some were sprinting past us at the end. (The 50 mile winner was under nine hours.) This helps put a marathon into perspective. It was fun to hear the crowd at the finish line welcome home the 100 milers as they finished. They cheered for everyone, but the 100 milers got a standing ovation as they made their way across the line.

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